Let's Start Again: Nominal Power Forward Comment Count

Brian April 16th, 2018 at 12:29 PM

An irregular series about next year's basketball team. Previously: point guard, shooting guard, small forward.


3 and D [Marc-Gregor Campredon]


Isaiah Livers (So): Nominal starter had 13% usage and played like it, almost exclusively taking open shots someone else created for him. Plus OREB guy and defender.

Ignas Brazdeikis (Fr): Scoring machine is already 19 and has already featured in this series at the 2 and 3, for reasons.

Brandon Johns (Fr): More to prove than Brazdeikis but maybe a higher ceiling.


[pokes Livers with a stick] hey. do something.

Isaiah Livers's 12.9% usage was the smallest number a Michigan rotation player put up since 2011, when sophomore Matt Vogrich Just-A-Shooter'd himself to 12.8%. The only scholarship player in the Kenpom era to do more than barely pip Livers in invisibility was the senior version of Gavin Groninger, who played 12 minutes a game despite shooting 10% from two and 19% from three. (Michigan basketball: more fun than it used to be.) Livers's FT rate of just above 10 is also in the same "might be the lowest in the Kenpom era" range. 90% of his shots at the rim were assisted, etc.

Livers's tendency to hole up in the corner and produce zero shots for himself or anyone else was a bit disappointing for Michigan's first instate Mr. Basketball winner in a minute. In retrospect, it actually wasn't that surprising. Matt D of Endless Motor provided a scouting report and video last year, and even against high school competition Livers was a jump shooter:

His head is often down when he dribbles against pressure defense though, mitigating his ability to create for others because he doesn't see the entire floor. Doesn't have good enough first step acceleration to create separation off the dribble against guards/wings in a straight line. Doesn't display ability to change direction with the basketball when his defender beats him to the spot or helpside defense cuts off his initial straight line. Does not get all the way to the rim off the dribble based on lack of acceleration and change of direction ballhandling.

That was the case as a freshman and will probably be the case for his career, give or take the usual Beilein development. It's asking a lot to up your usage by 50%, especially when your shot creation is a work in progress.



On the other hand, Livers was pretty good at not having the ball. His 7.4 OREB rate was Michigan's best mark from a non-center since GRIII, and he's the only other Beilein-era wing even in the frame. While I'm fairly leery about Synergy's individual defensive numbers—Zavier Simpson 73rd percentile with Eli Brooks and Jaaron Simmons 87 and 88th?!?!—Livers checking in as Michigan's second-best defender (outside of PG absurdities) behind Charles Matthews agrees with the ol' eye test. On/off splits can be noisy, but a couple things jump out as likely to be real in ~700 possessions against top 100 teams:

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.01.03 PM

Livers provided big rebounding advantages over Duncan Robinson and caused both teams to operate inside the arc more. He was also terribly intimidating to opposition free throw shooters.

Normally, a 3-and-D wing who's a great rebounder would be a perfect fit at the four for John Beilein. Next year's team… maybe less so. Shot creation will be at a premium and it would take a huge leap for Livers to provide much. His target usage next year is probably 16, not 20. With Wagner gone that might be a problem.

Livers has a role next year. He'll improve, and in certain lineups his (probable) inability to create won't be as much of a problem. His familiarity with both Beilein's offense and Yaklich's defense will give him able time early in the year to solidify his spot. He's got a shot. But he's got a lot of competition all of a sudden, and it's 50/50 whether he's able to maintain his early lead. Upping the "3" part of 3-and-D is his best bet—34% probably isn't going to cut it. 40% would.

Which freshman is more likely to push him out of the way?

The twice-aforementioned Ignas Brazdeikis. Brazdeikis is older and spent his last couple years on one of those elite Canadian prep teams, where he put up 33 points per game against a collection of Success Academies; last week he drove to the basket on Bol Bol and actually scored. (Probably because he poked Bol in the eye, but rubbin's racin'.) For those and other reasons covered earlier in this series, Brazdeikis should be Michigan's sixth man immediately, and if he's able to survive on defense his ability to get to the rack will be vital.

But let's not forget Brandon Johns. Johns didn't take the hotshot prep route and saw his stock fall as a result. He spent large amounts of his time dunking on the best future accountants and deeply incompetent prosecutors that Ingham County could provide. The results were entertaining, at least.

Despite the bigger adjustment Johns faces, he is an even cleaner fit at the spot than Brazdeikis if he comes in hot. Johns is going to be the second-best athlete on the team as soon as he enrolls, and he might give Matthews a run for his money. This is a lot of above the rim for one game:

In contrast to Livers, Johns is extremely aggressive and spends most of his time getting to the basket. As per usual with high school prospects, denominators are few and far between… but apparently he shot 72% from 2 during his final high school season. This says something about his competition level, yes. It also suggests that he's allergic to the midrange. Probably? In 16 EYBL games Johns shot 52/44 with about three times more twos than threes; he shot 68% from the line on 40 attempts. AAU, sample size, grain of salt, etc.

This seems like a bit of a logjam. Can they spread this out some?

A bit. Brazdeikis has drawn mention at two other spots for a reason, and should draw most or all of the backup minutes behind Matthews since the 3 and 4 are very similar in Beilein's offense. It's not hard to get him up to 20-25 minutes even if Livers also gets that many.

In addition, Michigan hinted at some smallball lineups featuring Livers at the 5 late in the year. He looked pretty clueless about what to do on offense at the time, but if Michigan has designs on a position-less Villanova mode, he's going to be the guy they run that with. Johns may be more physically capable of holding it down at the 5 but will be in his pupation year and will look as baffled as Livers was this year. If Michigan gets weird it'll be with Livers.


This spot is the most unsettled on the team, in a good way. Michigan has three different four-stars who bring Beilein-style skills and excellent size to the 4, in three different flavors: 3-and-D (Livers), conscience-free bucket acquisition machine(Brazdeikis), and ferocious leaping dunk monster (Johns). Chances are one of those die rolls comes up real nice.

Take this prediction about who emerges with a grain of salt, but I think you'll see Livers start and maintain that role through the year. Early, the freshmen will make a bunch of mistakes on defense that will get them sternly talked to. Late, Livers might give back some playing time as Michigan turns to (potentially) higher-usage guys for a bulk of the minutes. It'll be like this years' Livers-Robinson platoon, except this version of Robinson is really really Not Just A Shooter. Minutes probably get split close to down the middle once you hand Iggy 10 from the 3: Livers gets 20, Iggy gets 20 at two spots, and Johns gets 10.



April 16th, 2018 at 12:48 PM ^

the senior version of Gavin Groninger, who played 12 minutes a game despite shooting 10% from two and 19% from three. (Michigan basketball: more fun than it used to be.)

I was on campus for most of his career. Good times. He had one game (Georgia Tech, I think) as a freshman where he shot the lights out. And then, well . . . did I mention the GT game?


April 17th, 2018 at 10:01 AM ^

My roommate and I called him The Bricklayer. We came up with an idea that the marketing staff should hand out maize foam bricks so fans could build things during the game based on number of shots he missed. Apparently he was a nice guy though.

Shop Smart Sho…

April 16th, 2018 at 1:22 PM ^

Didn't say he wasn't. I didn't even say it was a negative thing. Although, as per usual, if a comment can be at all seen as negative, the mgoblog hive-mind descends.

My comment could as easily be read as noting the huge potential of both groups, and wondering which group will be talked about and their futures imagined more. Maybe it will be basketball because of recent sucess, or maybe it will be football because of a larger audience.


April 16th, 2018 at 1:31 PM ^

"Higher hype to production ratio" clearly has negative connotations as you're implying the hype will be far higher than actual production

And maybe it's not hive mind but just people rolling their eyes at a needlessly negative take that takes a shot at two different teams for no reason

Shop Smart Sho…

April 16th, 2018 at 2:02 PM ^

I didn't realize it was the team hyping up the freshmen. 

And of course I was being negative, that's what we do on the internet. But I was being negative about the blog's incessant over-hyping of freshmen. I'd like to think I'm relatively realistic about freshmen in all sports. They mostly suck, through no real fault of their own. They suck because they're freshmen who have no clue how to play in the system yet, don't have the necessary conditioning or physique, and are trying to do all of that while navigating one of the biggest lifesytle changes imaginable.

I'm not the one who spent all last summer saying the freshmen WR were going to provide approximately 90% of the production from the previous year. I thought that take was patently ridiculous. Just like I think it's insane to think that more than one of the incoming freshmen will be anything more than a role player on next season's basketball team. 

In my opinion, it's pretty obvious Johns is the most likely to play a large role on the team. He's physically mature by comparison to most freshmen, he'll be at a position where his athleticism allows him to compensate for not knowing the system perfectly, and there is a gaping hole in the lineup behind Livers.

Freshmen PGs don't play, unless they're Trey Burke.
It shouldn't surprise anyone if Poole and Matthews average 33 minutes a game.
Freshmen Cs get abused, and there are two upperclassmen on the roster.

The young guys might get more run in the preseason, but I think we should all expect the rotation to tighten up to 8 guys in conference play, and those 8 are most likely to be X, Brooks, Poole, Matthews, Livers, Johns, Teske, and Davis, with Iggy being around the usage Brooks saw this year.


April 16th, 2018 at 5:51 PM ^

I think everyone is realistic that it could be very good in a couple years because it's a deep class but no one even expects any of them to start next year, except a few people that think Iggy or Johns could overtake Livers at the 4.

It's definitely not getting nearly the hype that the 12-13 class got (as it shouldn't).

The football WR class was definitely way more hyped up.  I forget what the expectations were for them as freshmen but I don't think it was that crazy.  They could still live up the hype in a couple years with a QB to get to them and a line to give the QB time.

Indy Pete - Go Blue

April 16th, 2018 at 1:08 PM ^

It seems like Dave D and Iggy are getting all of the love in this class. Even Castleton and Nunez have been receiving more fan and hype accolades than Johns around here.  Give me Johns all day.  His athleticism and skills coming into Beilein's system should be an incredible thing to watch these next few years.


April 16th, 2018 at 12:59 PM ^

Livers just needs to be a consistent 3 pt shooting threat, specifically from the corner. If he develops that, other ways of scoring should open up a bit, e.g., working the baseline without the ball a la GRIII. He doesn't need to take players off the dribble to up his usage. Hopefully, he'll continue to develop as a defender and rebounder as well. He could easily end up a 4 year starter if no one else has a major breakthrough at the position.

Shop Smart Sho…

April 16th, 2018 at 1:25 PM ^

I'd wager he at least stays in front of the new guys this year. Every off season people seem to forget how insanely difficult it is to pick up the offense, and now they'll forget how hard it is to learn the defense. And from watching the tape on the incoming potential 4's, neither one of them are all that great at boxing out, so that's yet another skill he's way more developed at.

True Blue Grit

April 16th, 2018 at 2:05 PM ^

I was very happy with Livers play as a freshman this year up until the ankle injury.  After that, he mostly disappeared.  But, I think he'll come back even better than his pre-injury form next year.  He gave Michigan a big boost I thought, on the front line with defense and rebounding this year.  I'm not concerned.  These three guys should be a big strength for Michigan over the next 2-3 years.  


April 16th, 2018 at 2:54 PM ^

his job on offense is to occupy defenders by spotting up in the corner, finish on the break, and get OREBs.  All of which he did extremely well until he went on a bit of cold streak from 3 to end the season.

It is not a surprise that the team was better on both sides of the floor with him in the game than without. 

Of course, players like him do need to play with some guys that can create.  His effectiveness in his current role will depend on Matthews being able to be the very good 25% usage guy he was in the tournament, and Poole also being a 25% percent usage assassin.  Even if Z and Teske don't up their usage (and I bet they each do slightly), that'd look like this from the starters:

Z: 19%

Poole: 25%

Matthews: 25%

Livers: 14%

Teske: 17%

That should be almost as good offensively as this years starters and possibly (probably?) better than last year's starters on defense.


April 16th, 2018 at 3:52 PM ^

he shot 47% from 3 in conference play. He was enough of a threat to spread the floor, keep defenses honest, and make them pay (at an acceptable rate) if they weren't honest.  Hence our shooting numbers being essentially the same with and without him on the floor (actually they were better with him on the floor but I'll chalk that up to variance despite the massive sample sizes).

While his season average was only 34%, his shooting % correlated strongly to minutes played.  He was more likely to shoot well in games he played 17+ minutes (15-35 for 43%) than games he played 16 or fewer (just 4-21) minutes. And that wasn't a result of playing more against inferior competition because he played a lot in conference play and shot better then too. 

This makes sense because you're going to shoot better with confidence and rhythym. Playing a few minutes here and there and shooting one 3 a game is a difficult way to play.  I bet he'll be a high 30s guy, at least, next year as he'll get the majority of minutes at the 4.

It can't be overstated, once again, how much Livers and Teske helped the offense by getting OREBs.  If you're getting up more shots in the same number of possessions, it can go a long way towards offsetting worse shooting percentages (and there's no evidence that Livers even has worse shooting percetages: his eFG% was higher than MAARs, Z, Matthews and Poole last year.


April 16th, 2018 at 4:30 PM ^

are unabashed shooters.  Poole is going to have higher usage than MAAR ever had and Poole will have a higher ratio of 3 to 2s.  MAAR only shot 191 three last year. Poole shot more than half that in a third of the minutes!  Poole will probably shoot at least 50% more 3s next year than MAAR shot this year, barring injury/something crazy happening.

Iggy will likely take a lot of Robinson's minutes off the bench and will probably shoot a higher rate of threes than Duncan did (who wasn't a shot creator either).  If DeJulius and Nunez play at all, they'll probably be bombing from the three point line as well.

I would imagine Z and Matthews will be a little more competent and willing to shoot threes next year as well.

While we aren't going to get as many threes from the 5 spot (maybe none), it's not like there is a fixed number of threes you need to take.  You play to your teams strengths and you take the best shots the defense gives you.  Livers doesn't need to up his usage dramatically if it's not what the defense is giving him.  Maybe opponents are hell bent on helping off of him to stop Z from racing for layups or Teske from getting thundering dunks off the pick and roll or Poole from firing shots off screens but only if that's the case would we even care if Livers gets more usage.


April 16th, 2018 at 1:13 PM ^

He's getting downgraded because of Robinson's late season surge and his ankle injury.  During the middle of Big Ten play he was shooting lights out and finishing at the rim.  No idea if it was freshmen wall, confidence or injury but I'm very bullsih on Livers.  He was money in the bank from that corner 3 until the injury.   

A year of refinement in Camp Sanderson and Beilein will do wonders for him.  Big year coming. 


April 16th, 2018 at 2:50 PM ^

But he needs to buckle down and work his tail off on his body and his ball skills. I'm probably higher than anyone on Livers, because I was paying attention in before February.
I think hes more Like GRIII and D


April 16th, 2018 at 1:59 PM ^

His low usage rate is expected based on what they asked from him which is to defend, rebound and give offense spacing. It's just that Duncan is playing a lot better in the 2nd half of the season as a shooter and defender that they need his experience a lot more than Livers. Livers did have signfiicant playing time and should have a bigger role going forward.


IMO, Iggy is more suited to play at 2 and 3 than at the 4 due to his ability.  Brandon Johns should be the primary backup 4 and always has been highly regarded player in HS/AAU circuit. He is ready to play immediately and should provide a different dimension. He can step and shoot 3s yet have the athleticism to get to the hoops.


April 16th, 2018 at 3:34 PM ^

Iggy will play some at the 3 this year out of necessity, but he was only included in the preview with the 2s because Brian forgot Adrien Nunez existed. Poole will be backed up by Nunez and extra PGs. Iggy won't be a 2 at all. He is the absolute ideal 4 for Beilein. He's already 6'8" 220, and, most importantly, is a lefty. The 4 in Beilein's offense spends most of his time on the right side of the floor on the wing or in the corner. This will allow Iggy to attack with his dominant hand within the structure of the offense. If you asked Beilein to build his ideal 4, it would be a 6'8 or 6'9 lefty who can shoot, is skilled enough to attack off the bounce, and strong enough to be a good rebounder/post defender.


April 16th, 2018 at 4:00 PM ^

Beilein (and any smart modern coach) would prefer their 4 have defensive versatility/can guard any position on the court. That'd actually be your top defensive priority even more than defending the post since not a lot of 4s post up anyway.

I don't know what the scouting report is on Iggy's defense, but my guess is he's not going to be a very good perimeter defender.  I agree that his best position is still the 4 because of that, and they'll probably use him in much the way they used Duncan on defense, but he is absolutely not the ideal defender at the 4 spot (and Livers actually is).


April 16th, 2018 at 2:09 PM ^

Livers is gonna start and be just fine.

I know every player is different, but I keep remembering how awful DJ Wilson looked his first year on the court, and how drastically he improved - not to mention Caris, Teske, and on and on...

Livers looked pretty damn good last year, and next year will be his time to step up from supporting role to prominent role. 

Even if his improvement is marginal in all areas he will be a valuable player - and I won't be a bit surprised if he explodes. 

The freshmen will have their moments, and by tournament time will probably provide some real contribution, but LIvers will be a solid starter and player for us.


April 16th, 2018 at 2:54 PM ^

I was very high on Livers before last season because he fit the 4 position so well for Beilein.  This time last year we heard about Poole, Matthews, Robinson, etc. but there was healthy skepticism (even from Ace & Brian) about Livers ability to have an immediate impact.  

Then he comes out and struggles mightily from three, going 4-for-17 to start the season.  Then he goes 16-for-his-next-29 from three and rips the starting job away from Robinson.  Then he finishes 2-12.  So who is he? 

Someone who can defend well, rebound, and hit corner 3s is going to be a stud at the PF spot for Beilein.  Livers showed that for about a third of the season and will get every minute he can handle if he can do just those things whether he creates for himself or not.  But the problem is the other two thirds of the season.  

I like Livers a lot and he'll get every chance to own the 4 spot next season.  I actually see the roster makeup driving Iggy to start and Livers come off the bench, similar to what happened this year with Livers/Robinson.  This season they started Rahk and Wagner so having Livers' D and intangibles worked as a starter with Duncan giving the bench spark.  Next year they need scoring to start (Iggy) and Livers can bring the stability to the bench unit.  Just my theory for mid-season.  


April 16th, 2018 at 6:42 PM ^

I wonder how often we'll see that combination.

But this is where offseason work comes in. It's more than just reps, of course--you need good coaching to correct some shooting mechanics *cough*Simpson*cough* but the track record of Beilein suggests that one or more of these guys could make real gains in shooting next season. Bump Matthews and Livers by 5-7% each and suddenly you have a lot of spacing available. 



April 16th, 2018 at 7:12 PM ^

of minutes at their respective positions.  So we should see that combo at least a quarter of the game and another 10-15% of the game we'll see Z, Matthews, Livers and Davis on the floor.

Livers really only needs a 3-4% bump from his 34% last year.  Matthews could use a 5-7% bump.  And really, if one of Z or Matthews improves his 3 pt shooting significantly we'll be in good shape to spread even if Livers doesn't improve from solid.


April 16th, 2018 at 3:04 PM ^

With both Livers and Teske having high OREB rates, do you all think we will see an increased offensive rebounding focus, or do you think we will keep up the D.E.T.R.O.I.T. (Don't Even Try Running Out in Transition) defense?


April 16th, 2018 at 4:13 PM ^

on OREBs.  He's a 7 footer who can get OREBs over guys even if he doesn't have position.  He's very good at the tip-out.  Plus, it's not like he's going to be very fast at getting back on defense in transition.  He'll do what he did this past season in regards to rebounding.

I would imagine Livers would see his rate decline a little bit because Teske will eat up some opportunities and there's less reason to have them both down low going for them.  Last year Livers played with Wagner who was often on the perimeter and could get back on D to let Livers be the one guy going for OREBs (and would be curious to see a split of Livers OREB rate when playing with Wagner v Teske).  I doubt we'll let two crash the boards very often so I do think Livers will be told to get back on most scenarios.

Of course, if we play Livers at the 5 at all, he'll have the green light to crash the boards when it makes sense.